Nov 11, 2008 — Based in the “melting pot” capital of the world, New York City, the Yeshiva University men’s soccer team boasts a tremendously diverse group of athletes. The Maccabees’ roster—comprising athletes from Panama, Venezuela, Brazil, France, Israel, England, Chile, Belgium and the United States—represents a microcosm of the broad YU undergraduate student body.
“International players are drawn to the program by Yeshiva’s academics, religious heritage and education,” said Michael Spinner, associate director of athletics at YU. “By virtue of being a university that appeals to a wide range of students geographically, we attract many students who grew up playing soccer.”
The challenge is teaching them the way the game is played at the collegiate level. With the addition of new head coach Tony Elmore, the progress this season has been “stunning,” said Spinner.
Elmore, a former Skyline Conference Coach of the Year, brings over 30 years of coaching experience to the Maccabees. When taking on the role of head coach this offseason, he was presented with a daunting challenge—turning a multinational, diverse group of individuals into one cohesive unit.
“When I arrived here, the first thing I noticed was that the team was very cliquey,” said Elmore. “The Spanish speakers trained together. The French speakers trained together. I knew things had to change.”
The coach quickly put an end to that, breaking up the groups and having them train with other players.
Arie Blum, a co-captain from Santiago, Chile, has been with the team for three years, experiencing three different coaches. “Playing for the soccer team my first and second year, there was a constant struggle between the various nationalities,” said the senior. “We all wanted to do the right thing but we didn’t know who to follow. With Tony, we have all have something in common now. We have a leader.”
Elmore, originally from London, stresses two fundamental principals to his players: have fun and work as a team.
“It’s not about individual efforts or statistics, it’s about the team,” he said. “To succeed as a team, one player has to help the other.”
Co-captain Achiya Yaffe, a Jerusalem native, is impressed with the team’s transformation. “Last year it was just about playing soccer. This year it’s about playing on the soccer team,” said the sophomore. “We are all friends and not just teammates. It’s like being part of a big family.”
Second-year team member Joshua Pransky, a Philadelphian, concurred. “This year is different,” he said said. “Guys joke around together and hang out outside of practice more than in the past. There is a real energy and excitement among the players.”
The coach also understands that Yeshiva’s players are different. “They are students first and athletes second,” Elmore said. After a dual-curriculum that can end at 6 or 7 p.m., the team practices from 9 to 11 p.m. every night. “They may not be able to practice as much as the other schools, but they’re just as dedicated.”
“Our record doesn’t accurately show how much improvement we’ve made and that is unfortunate,” said Pransky. “But Coach has taught us that it doesn’t matter. He’s shown us that our commitment to a dual curriculum is something to be fiercely proud of, regardless of wins and losses.”
Indeed, this year may be the most competitive men’s soccer team YU has fielded in years. Playing against the elite teams in the Skyline Conference, the Maccabees have lost three games by only one goal (including a double-overtime loss to a solid Medgar Evers College team on Sept. 12). In fact, the coaches of every opponent on YU’s schedule thus far have commented on the team’s dramatic improvement and the team was awarded the Skyline Conference Sportsmanship Award.
Coach Elmore takes tremendous pride in educating the young men—not only about strategy, but about life. “Working hard, having a good time and being accountable for your actions—these aren’t just soccer lessons, these are life lessons that I hope they take with them into the real world.”
A player recently e-mailed Elmore, thanking him for all he’s learned. “Not only have you made me a better player,” read the e-mail. “You have made me a better man.”
Elmore replied, “That feels better than any award or record.”